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Ambivalent Encounters

Ambivalent Encounters: Childhood, Tourism, and Social Change in Banaras, India

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  • Book Info
    Ambivalent Encounters
    Book Description:

    Jenny Huberman provides an ethnographic study of encounters between western tourists and the children who work as unlicensed peddlers and guides along the riverfront city of Banaras, India. She examines how and why these children elicit such powerful reactions from western tourists and locals in their community as well as how the children themselves experience their work and render it meaningful.

    Ambivalent Encountersbrings together scholarship on the anthropology of childhood, tourism, consumption, and exchange to ask why children emerge as objects of the international tourist gaze; what role they play in representing socio-economic change; how children are valued and devalued; why they elicit anxieties, fantasies, and debates; and what these tourist encounters teach us more generally about the nature of human interaction. It examines the role of gender in mediating experiences of social change-girls are praised by locals for participating constructively in the informal tourist economy while boys are accused of deviant behavior. Huberman is interested equally in the children's and adults' perspectives; her own experiences as a western visitor and researcher provide an intriguing entry into her interpretations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5408-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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    (pp. xv-xvi)
  2. PART 1 Introductions

    • 1 Children, Tourists, and Locals
      (pp. 3-17)

      Our lives are a stream of encounters with other human beings. Many of these encounters fade into the background of everyday life, demanding little of our attention or concern and bearing little consequence. Others, however, press themselves upon us like an itch that requires constant scratching. We return to them again and again, seeking to decipher their structures, outcomes, and significance. In so doing, we often come to suspect that the immediacy of human encounters, even when face-to-face, is in fact an illusion, and that between ourselves and others, myriad forces and relations are at work. Yet, what are they?...

    • 2 A Tourist Town
      (pp. 18-32)

      My first visit to Banaras was as a tourist. It was spring of 1995, I was twentytwo years old, and I had recently graduated from college. During my junior year, I had spent a semester abroad in India, and that experience, coupled with the excellent anthropology courses I was exposed to as an undergraduate, had inspired me to apply for Ph.D. programs. Disregarding all advice to wait and figure out what I “really wanted to do,” I promptly, and perhaps, even impulsively, took the GREs, submitted my applications for graduate school, and then returned to India to wait out the...

  3. PART 2 Conceptions of Children

    • 3 Girls and Boys on the Ghats
      (pp. 35-66)

      In January of 2000, when I returned to Banaras to officially begin my fieldwork, I discovered a curious absence. Almost all of the girls whom I had met two years before and who worked on the ghat sellingdiyas(small floating lamps) and postcards were gone. There was a new batch of young girls selling these items, but it was as though the others had been sent into hiding and, as I later found out, in a sense they had been. With a few notable exceptions, by the time the girls reached the age of twelve or thirteen, they were...

    • 4 Innocent Children or Little Adults?
      (pp. 67-92)

      Throughout my fieldwork I was continually intrigued by the responses that Western tourists had to the children on the riverfront. Not only did tourists’ reactions display a surprising emotional intensity but in many cases they were diametrically opposed. Some tourists praised these young workers for their “charm” and “innocence,” and suggested that they were “more pure” and “playful” than “children at home.” Other tourists castigated them for their “corruption.” As I was told, “These aren’t children! They’re just little adults in kids’ bodies! All they’re interested in is business and money, they’re ruined!” However, there were also tourists who were...

    • 5 The Minds and Hearts of Children
      (pp. 93-116)

      Initially, I assumed that people in Dasashwamedh would have much more measured reactions to the children who worked on the riverfront than Western tourists. Over time, however, I discovered that their responses were also emotionally charged and frequently conflicting. Some locals praised the children for their maturity and compassion, whereas others vehemently decried their precociousness and corruption. “Children go bad from doing this work!” I was told. “They become impulsive!” “They become arrogant (ghamandi) and bold (tez)!” “They stop listening to their parents!” Indeed, part of what interested me was the way people in the neighborhood both discursively and conceptually...

  4. PART 3 Conceptions of Value

    • 6 Earning, Spending, Saving
      (pp. 119-140)

      Although the children on the ghats were definitely interested in making as much money as they could from foreign tourists, the pursuit of profit was far from unbridled. As Sangeeta Sahani, an eleven-year-old diya seller, remarked: “You should do only one kind of work, whether it is selling diyas or postcards or colors. If you switch and do someone else’s, that is wrong. Everyone comes here to earn. Everyone has a right (haq) to earn. You shouldn’t steal anyone’s livelihood.” Indeed, in many ways this informal tourist economy reflected features of “the moral economy” that regulates work relations among boatmen...

    • 7 Something Extra
      (pp. 141-164)

      Western tourists in Banaras, as we have seen, often had quite opposite experiences with the children on the riverfront. Many tourists came away feeling indebted to the children and they expressed their gratitude not only by purchasing their goods and services but also by taking the children on special outings, buying them gifts, and even sending them money and presents upon their return home. For instance, in commenting on his encounter with Mohan Mukherjee, Jorgen, a thirty-one-year-old Dutch tourist, remarked, “I know he is selling me something, but it doesn’t feel like he is. There is something extra. I am...

    • 8 Money, Gender, and the (Im)morality of Exchange
      (pp. 165-181)

      People in Dasashwamedh also had opposite reactions to the children on the riverfront. The boys’ behavior evoked fears of dark futures, barren money, and loafer lifestyles. For instance, Anand Sahani, a local silk merchant, explained: “These boys loaf around and have fun, but their futures will be dark. No one can digest the money earned in the tourist line. When these boys die they will not even have money for a shroud; they will be cremated without one. This is the meaning of the guiding line.” By contrast, the girls were frequently commended for their work with foreign tourists. As...

    • 9 Conclusion
      (pp. 182-188)

      This book developed from a yearning to understand why the children on the riverfront of Banaras elicited such powerful reactions from Western tourists and locals in their community. It also stemmed from a determination to explore how these young peddlers and guides rendered their work meaningful. In the preceding chapters, I have argued that the children emerged as polyvalent symbols that enabled tourists and locals to express a range of desires and concerns. I have also made it clear, however, that the children played upon adult fantasies and fears, thereby actively shaping the outcomes of these encounters.

      By organizing my...